On this day in 1962, seven whole years before the Stonewall Uprising, in Providence, RI, Aaron Fricke was born.
You may not know his name, but at the age of 17, Aaron asked his boyfriend Paul Guilbert to go to prom with him. Paul said yes and what happened next would go down in history as the first time someone sued to take someone of the same sex to their prom.
As would be expected, his high school refused to let Aaron bring Paul to prom. So Aaron filed suit in US District Court. For his actions, Aaron was bullied and beaten. He needed five stitches in his face and the kid who did it was suspended from school for nine days.
The presiding judge, Raymond J. Pettine ruled in Aaron’s favor, ordering the school to not only allow him and his partner to attend as a couple but also to provide enough security to ensure their safety.
That magical night is described in a 1983 essay by Aaron:
The crowd receded. As I laid my head on Paul’s shoulder, I saw a few students start to stare at us. I closed my eyes and listened to the music [Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got the Night”], my thoughts wandering over the events of the evening. When the song ended, I opened my eyes. A large crowd of students had formed a ring around us. Probably most of them had never seen two happy men embracing in a slow dance. For a moment I was uncomfortable.
Then I heard the sound that I knew so well as a B-52s fan. One of my favorite songs was coming up: “Rock Lobster.”
Paul and I began dancing free-style. Everyone else was still staring at us, but by the end of the first stanza, several couples had also begun dancing. The song had a contagious enthusiasm to it, and with each bar, more dancers came onto the floor.
I doubt that any two people were dancing with the same movements: the dancing was an expression of our individuality, and no one felt bad about being different. Everyone was free to be themselves.
I could see that everyone felt a sense of disorientation. For six minutes and forty-nine seconds, the students on the dance floor had forgotten about their defenses, forgotten about their shells. We just had fun.
This case set a precedent for other similar cases around the country and opened doors for other LGBT teens to enjoy their proms the way they should. It of course doesn’t mean that that every high school prom is free and clear of problems like Aaron & Paul had, but we’re grateful that the door was kicked open that fateful day in Providence, RI. The difficult thing to see is that the headline of this article could easily still be printed today, 31 years later.
Aaron went on to write a beautiful coming out novel, Reflections of a Rock Lobster: a Story About Growing Up Gay, and another book with his father Walter, Sudden Strangers: the Story of a Gay Son and his Father.
Happy Birthday Aaron!